Customers and clients have a wide variety of outlets for expressing their views about businesses' products and services. Most people choose social media sites like Yelp or Google. Amazon includes online reviews. Many people use neighborhood sites like Nextdoor to express their opinions, good and bad, on local businesses.
No one wants to see a poor review of their product, service or company. However, do businesses have any recourse when they believe that someone has posted something untrue and/or defamatory?
The law protects a wide variety of consumer evaluations are protected. Under the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA), people are allowed to give their honest opinion about the service they received or a product they purchased without negative consequences, including the threat of a lawsuit, from the purveyor of that good or service.
The CRFA was passed as a result of actions by some companies to prevent negative reviews. There have been instances of business including provisions in contracts (often in online terms and conditions that few people read) that allowed them to take legal action or otherwise penalize people for negative reviews.
Under the CRFA, which is enforced by state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), businesses can't include this type of provision in any customer contract. Companies that violate the CRFA are treated much like those engaging in deceptive or unfair practices. They can be subject to financial and other federal penalties.
However, businesses don't have to put up with all negative feedback. They can remove reviews or act to prohibit a review that:
- Is abusive, libelous, obscene or makes inappropriate references to race, sexual orientation, ethnicity or other protected characteristics.
- Contains confidential information about a company or people associated with the company. This could include personal information about a business owner or trade secrets.
- Is irrelevant to the products or services offered by a company.
- Is "clearly false or misleading."
It's only natural to believe that a harsh review of your company or its products is "false or misleading." However, most negative reviews don't meet that standard under the law.
Businesses can prevent unintentional violations of the CRFA by working with an experienced North Carolina business and commercial law attorney as you draw up your contracts, including online agreements. If you believe a review warrants being removed or legal action, your attorney can advise you on the appropriate course of action.